About the Book
- Sarah MacLean
- Cis Boy
- Cis Girl
- White (Non-Specified)
Friends, lovers, earls and countesses, welcome to Part Deux of FYA’s Grown-Up Guide to Romance Novels, a four-week series during the horniest month. After we met-cute last year, y’all were screaming for more, and we couldn’t leave you unsatisfied. So we’re back to explore even more bodies of work from some of our favorite romance authors. We’re getting down and dirty with a new author or series each week in February, and we hope you’ll join us for a good time.
The Bareknuckle Bastards series by Sarah MacLean
What To Expect: Take A Walk On The Dark Side, Soap Opera Levels Of Drama, Betrayal And Bastards, Lost Love, Rejection Of The Rich
The Duke of Marwick is a real dick. He fathered three sons with three different women, who all miraculously gave birth on the same night (his actual wife also gave him a daughter that same month, but she was actually another man’s love child!). With no proper “male” heir to his name, a decade later the Duke decides to bring his children together to force them to compete for the title. These tortured children are now broken adults: three of them banded together to become the Kings and Queen of Covent Garden, while the other inherited the dukedom and a whole lot of baggage.
From Fancy Dress To Fabio:
This series is all OVER the fancy dress trend. The bright, cotton-candy-esque colors do draw the eye, as do the defiant and direct looks each woman is giving the reader. There are no shrinking violets here. I feel like the cover artist’s notes were: make it fancy dress but empowering. Nailed it!
Wicked and the Wallflower (The Bareknuckle Bastards #1)
Lady Felicity Faircloth used to be the talk of the ton, but now she’s shunned by those she once called “friend”. Devil (yes, his nickname is Devil) is the bastard son of a dead duke who now rules a criminal empire with his brother and sister. The two meet on a dark balcony as Felicity seeks escape from the jerks at the fancy ball she’s attending and Devil attempts a break-in to mess with his other brother, the Duke. He’s never met someone from the gentry who is so down-to-earth; she’s never met someone so sexy from the wrong side of town. But despite his interest, Devil has no qualms about using Felicity as a pawn to get what he wants…at first.
The Leading Lady:
Felicity’s goals at the start of the book are kind of short-sighted: she has to secure a rich husband to restore her family fortunes and social status so she can get back to the life she’s always known. But she’s never spent much time in dark alleys and with the common folk, and she’s learning that dangerous-but-kind is one of her turn-ons.
The Leading Man:
Devil is obsessed with righting the wrongs his shitty dad and his betraying brother did to him years ago. While he may be the Devil of Covent Garden, he’s got a heart-of-gold when it comes to the people in his employ. He’ll be trying all throughout the novel to convince himself that he’s no good for Felicity, that she’s just a means to an end, but we all know how well that works…
Risque Ranking: 9
Like many Regency novels that feature phrases like “rogues” and “twenty-six-year-old spinsters”, MacLean is all in on the fair maiden and the devilish cad trope. Felicity is looking to marry a Duke, for reasons, but she doesn’t mind getting some much-desired experience with a sexy criminal first. MacLean’s kissing bits were sexy without being too overwrought or silly with euphemisms, so you might say it hit all the right spots.
Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
We had two:
“What she was asking. “I want—”
“I know,” he replied, rocking against her, letting her taste the pleasure he could give her. She quickly got the hang of it, and Devil let her use him. He growled and sucked deeper, loving the cry she let loose against his hair as he worked her with tongue and lips. As she worked herself on him. She was fire.
And he was aflame.”
“She was so sweet, heady and lush and soft like that spun sugar from all those years ago. She was sin and sex and freedom and pleasure and something more and something worse, and he was lost in the feel of her lips and the taste of her when she opened to him like she’d been waiting her whole life for him.”
Was It Good For You?
Stephanie: Is it just me, or did anyone get Kaz Brekker vibes from Devil? Especially when he did his little tap-tap with the cane. (Kaz used a cane, right?) I haven’t read many Sarah MacLean romances before this book, and while I found some bits to be a repetitive (constant internal monologue recaps drive me bonkers), it was easy enough to skim past those. What was left was pretty fun and sexy! It was more dramaaaah *jazz hands* than some Regency-set novels I’ve read, which, I’ll be honest, appealed to me greatly. I breezed through this one in a day.
Rosemary: Whew boy, this book was hot hot hot. Devil is my favorite brand of romantic hero, and his back-and-forth with Felicity heated up the pages even more. One scene in particular involving a very large block of ice was…*fans face* I devoured this book in a single day.
Kandis: I loved Felicity when she was first introduced in The Day of the Duchess and was definitely curious about the mysterious Covent Garden brothers introduced in the Scandal and Scoundrel series so I was thrilled to get more of those characters here. Sarah MacLean loves her clever wallflowers, and so do I! I like that plucky Felicity has some unexpected skills and Devil makes a great brooding bad boy. The sex scenes can be hot, except for the one that occurs in such an uncomfortable and public location, that I was distracted by that the entire time.
Kate: This book had me totally in its thrall. The chemistry between Felicity and Devil is insane, and sparks fly from their very first meeting. Despite an unsupportive family who doesn’t care about her happiness, Felicity is a strong heroine who sees any challenge as another lock to be picked. While the circumstances keeping these two apart felt contrived at times, they did help to ramp up the sexual tension and pace between the “fun bits.”
Brazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)
Hattie finds Beast (I just can’t with these nicknames) tied up and unconscious in her family’s carriage, which is quite inconvenient because she’s sneaking out with her best friend to go get deflowered at a bordello. She gives Beast an impromptu smooch and promptly throws him out of the moving carriage. Despite this cavalier attempt at vehicular homicide, Beast is smitten.
The Leading Lady:
Hattie is a modern girl in an un-modern world. She’s grown up learning the ins and outs of her father’s shipping company, but there’s no way she’ll ever get to run it herself if she’s tied to a simpering Viscount or Earl or, heaven forbid, a Duke, so she sets out to ruin herself so her father can’t marry her off. The lady’s got tenacity in spades.
The Leading Man:
Beast is Devil’s hulking but monosyllabic loyal brother, who’d prefer to use his fists before he’d discuss feelings, but he hides a soft, chewy center inside his abs of steel. He, uh, grunts a lot, which doesn’t exactly make this reviewer swoon (use your words, please!), and presumes to know best and does so without consulting his lady-love, but he could exhibit way more alpha-jerk behaviors than he actually does, so he’s not the worst Regency-era man you’ll meet this month.
Risque Ranking: 10
There’s nothing sexier than knowing what you want. Hattie has no romantic experience but she is MORE than eager to disavow herself of any hint of chastity when she makes a mutually beneficial deal with Beast. I may have even blushed a little at the scene that takes place in the back of the bar (you’ll know it when you read it). Brazen indeed!
Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
“She was too eager to be embarrassed. She was wanton and wanting and it didn’t matter that she knew of this particular act only from the songs the sailors used to sing in the rigs when they thought she wasn’t listening. Later, she would marvel at the way her body seemed to know precisely what he would do to her. At the way her fingers found his hair, at the way his breath caught when she fisted them and he released a long, slow curse at the soft skin of her thigh. At the way she spoke up. “Yes, please.”
At the way he responded, his mouth like heaven.”
Was It Good For You?
Stephanie: I liked that this story builds upon the first one in regards to the fight between the Covent Garden brothers and the faux Duke, Ewan. It is all so very drama-lama. Beast’s internal thoughts got a bit schmoopy too quickly for me; it felt like the author went a bit overboard because he’s such a “strong and silent” type on the outside. The last bit of the story leaned in on the soapiest bits of cheese (Explosions! Comas!) but I still stayed up to read it over the course of a night, so I can’t scoff THAT much. I was hooked.
Rosemary: The year of Hattie, baby! While I have loved both books in this series so far, Hattie taking her life into her own hands made this book my favorite. She’s ready to be devirginized and take over the family business, and if MEN won’t let her do those things, she’ll take matters into her own hands. We stan a sex-positive girlboss! My only complaint with this book is that I listened to the audiobook and really disliked the way the narrator did Beast’s voice. I get that his name is Beast, but does he really have to sound like a British caveman?
Kandis: YEAR OF HATTIE. Will Hattie be my personal life coach? Choosing to be “ruined” always makes for a fun romance trope, but Hattie definitely gets more than she bargained for. Luckily, she’s a fun and curvy heroine, taking charge of her life, so she’s totally up to the challenge. As Stephanie mentioned in the synopsis, Beast grunts A LOT, which is definitely less than sexy. We get it, he’s a man of few words. Except when he’s spouting poetry? So far, this series isn’t my favorite of MacLean’s, but these definitely make for some fluffy fun.
Kate: Man, Beast really does it for me. A strong, silent type who has a secret lair piled high with books, rugs, and pillows? I volunteer as tribute! I loved getting to delve even deeper into this world, and I felt like Beast and Hattie had even crazier chemistry than Devil and Felicity did. I was a little weirded out by the constant transactional referrals to her virginity, but the book more than made up for it with a VERY racy scene set in the back room of a bar. Another round, please!
Daring and the Duke (The Bareknuckle Bastards #3)
The third book in the series isn’t going to be released until June this year (whyyyy?). While we wait, let’s ask ourselves: What are we hoping to see?
ETA: Read our review here!
Stephanie: Ewan has been pretty dickish over the last two books, so I’m REAL curious to see if MacLean can actually redeem him enough to be worthy of Grace. I’m sure he’s going to have some “noble” reason for selling out his brothers and Grace that we’ll learn about. But will Devil and Beast ever be able to forgive him after his actions over the last two books? I hope Grace makes him WORK for it. I’m also excited to see more of Grace’s entrepreneurial spirit and the inner workings of her female-catering bordello.
Rosemary: It seems crazy at this point that MacLean can make me root for Ewan, but at the same time, Devil in Winter is my favorite book from Lisa Kleypas’ Wallflowers series, so maybe the worse the dude, the better his redemption arc? I love Grace, though, she’s an absolute badass, so Ewan better get his shit together if he wants his happily ever after!
Side note: After reading Brazen and the Beast, I would really like a novella about Anika’s romantic interest. Sarah, if you’re reading this, please please please! (Stephanie: I second this!!)
Kandis: I’m afraid my least favorite part of this series is the murky backstory of the brothers’ terrible childhood and the extra terrible, Ewan. I do love the idea of finally getting Grace’s point of view, and especially, getting to know more about her business. Like Rosemary, I love Devil in Winter (which redeemed a previously terrible scoundrel), but I simply can’t imagine a way to 1.) Explain Ewan’s actions enough to make him redeemable in any way, and 2.) Make him even seem mentally healthy enough for us too root for a relationship with him and Grace.
Kate: So far, we’ve only gotten these Bastards’ bonkers backstory in bits and pieces, but I’m ready to hear the story from Grace’s perspective. How could she possibly have fallen in love with Ewan, who’s been comically villainous up until this point? That’s the main question I want answered. Not to mention, Devil and Beast made an empire out of nothing, and they’re men, so I can’t wait to see the full scope of what Grace has accomplished as the badass woman that they both acknowledge is the best of them.
Have you read this series? Which one was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
FTC Full Disclosure: We did not receive money or Girl Scout cookies of any kind (not even the lame cranberry ones) for writing these reviews. The Bareknuckle Bastards series is available now.